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'I dream of my own apartment': Portland’s homeless yearn for housing as county aims to house 300 people in 4 months

"Housing Multnomah Now" is the county’s latest plan to move 300 people off the streets and into housing over the next four months.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Diamond Howard lit a cigarette while walking her husky in Old Town Monday morning. She’s been homeless in Portland on-and-off for 15 years. She’s currently on four housing waitlists and yearns for a safe place to call her own. 

“I can actually taste it,” she said. “I dream of having keys, my own keys to my own apartment.”

Homeless people like Howard are the focus of Housing Multnomah Now, the county’s latest plan to move 300 people off the streets and into housing over the next four months.

“There are apartments available every day on the market,” said Denis Theriault at the county’s Joint Office of Homeless Services. 

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The county plans to flood certain areas of Portland with outreach workers. The city’s Impact Reduction Team will point those workers to the areas with the most camps.

“The outreach workers are going to be there day after day, after day, after day, after day,” said Theriault. 

The plan has a price tag of $14 million for one year, which will come from unused tax money from the Supportive Housing Services Measure.

“The county board of commissioners allocated some of that funding for rent assistance to prevent evictions, but they left a large chunk of it for this board this year, [for] new folks on the board and new chair to decide how to spend,” said Theriault.

The plan relies on shelters, safe rest villages and even Mayor Ted Wheeler’s designated camping sites – which have yet to open – for where to place people waiting for permanent housing. Meanwhile, they will offer landlord incentives and rent assistance to speed up the housing process. 

“If they want a shelter bed, any of those sites— including the city’s sites— would be available for those folks,” Theriault said.

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However, many people living on the streets are skeptical.

“They enjoy this whole roller coaster and this whole merry-go-round of ‘Oh, we’re going to do this and end this homeless situation’ but yet it never gets done,” said Howard.

Part of the county’s plan will aim to stop the cycle of moving people from one location to another, which is one of the biggest concerns and setbacks for people living on the street.

“It feels like every time I get my sh** together and I end up buying a trailer, the city ends up towing it and taking it from me— then I’m back to square one,” explained Howard.

“I think it’s good for the community but more importantly it’s good for our most vulnerable neighbors,” added vendor program director DeVon Pouncey at Street Roots, a non-profit and newspaper based in Old Town that works closely with homeless people. He believes housing is just the first step to solving this crisis.

“I think being able to tack on services to be able to assist them once they do get housing is almost nearly as important,” Pouncey added.

The county is urging the state legislature to pick up Governor Tina Kotek’s $130 million dollar investment package to address homelessness. That package would help kickstart the county’s plan.

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